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Plenty of interesting elements, but really all over the shop tonally and in terms of content
bob the moo18 September 2016
I knew little of this film when I sat to watch it, only that it was from Spike Lee, and I was open to whatever it chose to do. The opening credits suggest seriousness and grit; this is an impression that continues even at the same time as it adds theatrical presentation to the delivery, and rhyming couplets to the dialogue. At this point I was intrigued by the style as well as the content but as the ideas grew the film really gets out of control. I am really not sure what the vision for the film was, and what was told to the cast to draw in so many big names – but I'm guessing different things attracted them since so many of them appear to be in different films from the others.

The film touches on a lot of serious subjects, but at the same time it tries to involve comedy, musical numbers, sexual farce, and generally odd or misjudged attempts at comedy. The result is a film that feels so totally unfocused that it is really difficult to stay with it. Being kind, you could describe this wild energy as being enough to carry the viewer along, but I did not find this to be the case. Instead I wanted it to be better – to be worthy of its subject matter and its better elements; but this never came together, and I found it quite frustrating just how messy it was.

The starry cast doesn't help because even when they are really good, they are distracting by their fame, as well as the disjointed nature of their individual material. Parris is strong in the lead, but struggles to find a through-line across all her varying material. Cannon is wholly unconvincing throughout, while Snipes' comedy gangster undercuts the grit of this part of the film. Bassett and Hudson are excellent in their scenes – and it is not their fault that their scenes exist in a film different from the other scenes. The parade of familiar faces is distracting (Cusack, Jackson, Harris, Chappelle etc), although some are used well. I do always enjoy seeing people from The Wire and Oz, however getting Whitlock Jr. to deliver his most famous line (well, word) was just another misjudged moment.

Chi-Raq has a lot of ideas and energy, and it is an experience to watch it for these. However the film is wildly unfocused and messy, ultimately failing to hold it all together or to deliver a satisfying whole.
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Hated It
chicagopoetry29 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Chi-Raq opens with an elevated train stopping at the Wicker Park stop, the most gentrified stop in Chicago. This is where the all black nightclub is depicted. An hour later. A group of black women take over the armory, portrayed as a basketball court. Samuel L. Jackson, the shameful carnival barker, is criticizing the police, saying "if this was happening in YOUR neighborhood" how would you feel? Problem is: that armory is in Humboldt Park, a Puerto Rican neighborhood. Spike made a "satire" about the "black on black" violence in Englewood, but didn't set it in Englewood.

The characters don't act like, look like or talk like Chicagoans (even if Chicagoans spoke in nothing but rhyming, sexist cat calls). Is there some black group resembling the Grand Order of the Buffalo wearing weird hats and sitting around on velvet couches making decisions for the black population of Chicago? No. But this is what is depicted in this total mess of a film about the touchy subject of gun violence, which isn't exclusive to the black community.

Then there's the insurance salesman selling insurance to mothers for their young sons, since they are likely going to get killed by gunfire. This makes for a shocking display but do insurance companies actually do this? Truth be told, the LAST person an insurance company would want to insure is someone that they EXPECT will die in the near future. It's just nonsense created by Spike Lee.

Of course this wouldn't be an American movie about the problems of black people without a white savior and this time around it's John Cusack. Granted he gives one hellava performance as a preacher but he's still the obligatory white man saving the day. One would think Lee would skip this ingredient in the formula but nope. One would also like to think Spike wouldn't portray his own people as vulgar, ignorant, uneducated stereotypes but this is what he's handing us, having his characters speak in rhyming poetry that is so illiterate and profane that even an audience at a Green Mill poetry slam would probably be squirming, too afraid to boo because they might get shot.

(Example of typical dialogue you can expect in the movie Chi-Raq. Male: "I know you miss daddy dick nasty." Female: "Not more than you miss the steamy creamy hot buttery biscuit.")

Which makes it all the more preposterous when the women of the film demand respect. Excuse me, strange alien Nubian female creatures invented by Spike Lee and transplanted into planet earth via a film about Chicago--but isn't respect EARNED? You want us to respect a bunch of gun crazy thugs who speak in rhyming Ebonics who can only be reasoned with if the p*ssy is cut off? Do tell: WHY?? The characters in the film aren't even portrayed as living in poverty. Quite to the contrary, they might as well be living in Graceland, so lavish their homes are. We're supposed to respect these hoodlums? Care about these nut jobs? Sympathize with them?

But let's remember, before we forget this isn't a real portrayal of black Chicagoans; this is NOT a story about Chicago. This is a story about two fictional gangs, the Trojans and the Spartans (as if any black gang would choose those names), a play on an old Greek comedy no less. In one scene Lee actually has them wearing blue and red bandannas, as if they are Crips and Bloods, in Chicago!! Chi-Raq has nothing to do with Chicago. Nothing. And as such, it's completely worthless, because the gun violence in Chicago IS real and deserves more than this lazy satire with it's one dimensional characters.

But wait, hold on, it gets worse. Spike throws in a few musical numbers that are so horrendously choreographed that, if I didn't know better, I would think were Saturday Night Live sketches. Under any other pretext, this film would be a slightly below average comedy that could be excused for its pretentiousness because it's striving too hard to be experimental. But this is Chi-Raq, the new Spike Lee movie, the film that had the mayor of Chicago up in arms worrying about how it was going to make his city look. Well, worry no longer, Mr. Mayor, because there's nothing in this film that makes Chicago look bad (unless you consider the scene where you are portrayed squealing like a pig ala Deliverance), but there is a whole lot that makes Spike Lee look bad. There's no indictment of the city here, and there's no answers to the problems here either. What there is, is Mickey Rooney, Jerry Lewis and Peter Sellers at their absolute worst if they were wearing black face.

But let me end with a thought about the name of this film. It may be true that more people have been killed in Chicago than soldiers killed in Iraq, but what kind of idiotic comparison is that in the first place? We were the invading army in Iraq. If we included all the Iraqis that were killed as the result of that invasion, it would fall into the hundreds of thousands, perhaps even over a million. So what an insult to the people of Iraq, to compare the black on black gang violence in Chicago to the illegal invasion and occupation of an entire country, and in doing so to only include the casualties of the occupying army as victims worth counting.

I'm just trying to figure out what was going through Spike Lee's head when he decided he wanted to make a movie about gun violence in Chicago and then got the bright idea to make it a sex comedy. But we have to remember this is the same guy who crowd funded a straight to Netflix remake of a totally obscure blaxploitation film and also remade Oldboy pretty much scene by scene for only he and God knows what reason.
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At least he tried
SnoopyStyle17 July 2016
Chicago is referred to as Chi-Raq. American losses in Afghanistan from 2001 to today amounts to 2349, in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 amounts to 4424, and Chicago from 2001 to 2015 with 7356 murders. Dolmedes (Samuel L. Jackson) refers to ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes' play Lysistrata. Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) is a rapper. Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) is his girlfriend. Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) is a local thug. Irene (Jennifer Hudson) suffers the lost of her child from a stray bullet. Lysistrata leads a campaign by the women to withhold sex until the men stop the violence.

Spike Lee takes on a tough subject. The 'solution' is poetic and way too simplistic. I get the allure of pairing the classic Greek play with the present day reality. If nothing else, he's agitating for a solution to this intractable problem. He's not giving up. As for the movie itself, I have a few problems with the cast. John Cusack does not fit as a priest. I accept his Chicago connection and his need to help with this issue. He has never played this type of role and it's very odd to see him here. The General King Kong character is even worst. He is ridiculous. I don't know what Spike Lee is trying to say about the military and what connection they have with the murder rate. On the other hand, Jennifer Hudson's presence is powerful. Overall, this is a mix bag but at least, Spike Lee is willing to tackle the issue like he did so many years ago.
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Chiraq - A Mediocre Movie Made Terrible by Ignoring Real Cries for Real Help
robo042-119 December 2015
On it's own it's a goofy yet poignant musical. A little boring, if I'm being honest.

But with the name "Chi-Raq" and it being set in Chicago and it dealing with the gun violence in Chicago, the movie is worse than just bad. Chiraq is a real term that real kids in real bad neighborhoods came up with to describe their environment. Chicago's murder rate doesn't look like much when taken as a whole but when you realize that 99% of it occurred in just a few of Chicago's many neighborhoods, you'll understand why those unfortunate kids from those neighborhoods chose this term. These are not white neighborhoods, mind you, remember that Chicago is the most segregated city in America. These kids really have seen more literal dead bodies growing up than most soldiers have seen in Iraq. The term is as offensive and loud as possible because it's meant to get your attention. It is a very literal cry for actual help in every sense of the word.

Spike Lee takes this term and honors the meaning behind it by completely ignoring those cries for help. He chooses to use Chicago to tell some story about how a sex strike maybe solved a civil war one time so yeah that could totally solve all the dead bodies that pile up in Englewood and Fuller Park every year. And the corrupt governmental system keeping it secret and confined to black neighborhoods.

The most obvious example of Spike Lee completely missing what's really going on in the *real* Chiraq is the fact that the gangs in his film beef over colors. Don't nobody care what colors you wear in Chiraq, your chances of being killed are the same regardless. That's some goofy west coast crap. Modern gangs in the real Chiraq form simply out of safety in numbers. Activities vary set by set, block by block. Conflict typically stems from disputes over sex and violence. This is what motivates *most* violence in America, however when it happens on the South Side, it gets labeled "gangland violence" and then gets mostly ignored by media outlets.

Simple things get overlooked like how a lot of these deaths could be avoided simply by building a closer trauma center to these neighborhoods so it doesn't take an ambulance over an hour to get to the scene. How more educational and work force centers can provide direction to directionless kids with no hope. How proper legal representation and education could ensure we're not occasionally sending innocent kids to jail to learn how to become a savage along with the rest of them. These are all common things you'll find missing from most of these consistently super high crime areas in Chicago.

It's gotten bad in Chicago. And when I say bad, I mean real bad. Someone needs to shine a light on what's really going on because it's gone way beyond any other place in America. Way worse than you're imagining. The only thing a sex strike would do on the South Side is make the already high sexual assault rate climb even higher. And that's just real talk.

Which Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq" continues to ignore by examining none of those things. In Spike Lee's world, it's almost like he's saying it's black people's fault the murder rate is so high in places like Austin and West Englewood. Like he's saying "You girls maybe need to stop putting out so much, that's the problem." 1 out of 10 stars, no sympathy for those who chose to ignore real cries for real help from an entire group of disenfranchised youth.
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A Review Written in Ironic Pentameter
bkrauser-81-31106417 March 2016
The newest joint from director Spike Lee, is a bizarre experiment for all to see.

Told in a brash tone, preaching with a megaphone, promising to make heads roll, And influenced by the writings of old Aristophanes.

Lysistrata (Parris) is the main squeeze of Chi-Raq (Cannon), A man with hopes to rap and plans attacks with and between two rival clans.

There's similarities between another two households alike in dignity, Down to the the colors worn during their mutiny.

So hopeless is their feud, no faction can collude to end, The violence penned and pent up in the hearts of these men.

So too does Lysistrata makes her nihilism known, Until an innocent is slain by a bullet in stray.

Plotting with Miss Helen (Bassett) and her sisters to atone, The ladies decide to keep their menfolk at bay.

Thus swayed with a solemn oath to end the specter of death, From the streets of the City with Big Shoulders, The women of Chicago swear with resounding shibboleth, To go on sex strike until the violence is over.

Much like this review, the film is in rhyme, which can grind, The gears of many not willing to meet it halfway, The characters imbue parody and are unable to find, Balance between the real and distorted morality play.

Overwrought with the thoughts and ersatz of bathetic farce, There's still something radical with which few can parse; Like when the gals take the armory, like Greeks to the treasury, The choruses of men and women can't help but find, A sincere quest for peace too abstruse for the blind.

Thus this film is a siren's call for peace that should be heard, Even if it is incredibly uneven in places.

The sui generis of such a movie bends to the absurd, Yet the message is true thus putting me in it's good graces.

There was much hullabaloo about it's offensive fantasy, Minimizing the tragedy of a besieged Windy City.

I for one stopped myself from attending a screening, As Chicago is second home thus this treatment is demeaning.

Yet firstly, this film is supposed to be skit and travesty, While the reasons for violence is complex, the act is absurdity! Why not have an expression that typifies the high camp of low brutality.

Why not revel in the message of love, that which comes from above, Below and inside the mourning, healing hearts and souls thereof.

There are many reasons to hate: revenge, opportunity, resource, religion, Politics, poverty, power, cash, race and competition.

Yet there is only one reason for love.

Secondly the source material is Greek in more ways than one, Comprehending the pathos of such a think piece maligned, Appropriates the fields of Thalia, Euterpe and Clio entwined.

It's not the who, what, where or when but why, when all is said and done.

And how strongly you feel by the tears and blood shed, When all players arrived, sheathed in white, bathed in the glory, Indemnified by a campaign ignited by Leymah Gbowee.

They end in the way a comedy should, in jubilation and ascension.

A better understanding made possible by an old form.

In modernity and convention we're given new dimension, With which to understand what's sadly a new norm.

Manipulative? Simplistic? Sexist? Maybe; Greek comedies are not exactly known for their subtlety.

Neither is Lee who hungrily experiments with novelty, Blusters with the voracity of his new expression, Not bothered or concerned with the asylum of discretion.

He's a maverick through and through, taking risks made bear, By a new form first fashioned by the surname Lumiere.

It tries, it fails, it gets back up again and fights the good fight, Using to make right the names of Jackson, Bassett and Snipes.

Is this movie acropolis or apocryphal? Watch and decide.
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It's based on a Greek Comedy folks...solid film.
orphicdragon3 January 2016
First for the "haters" negative Nancy crowd: I'm bright white, don't love or hate Lee and don't know squat about Chicago.

I thought this was pretty solid. All the valid intelligent criticism I've seen involves elements tying this to Aristophanes work.

I get it,gangsta's and Aristophanes are not things that are closely associated but darn it fruity arty farty reviewers should have read a freaking Greek play at least once or twice in life.

I think Lee did an awesome job here. I gave a s*** about Chicago. The use of Aristophanes Lysistrata was a brilliant way to illustrate how long humanity has been doing this dumb crap. It's a fantastic way to illustrate just how universal this nonsense is.He managed to tie a modern day cultural issue's to ancient Greece. It's real daggum difficult to call Lysistrata "a black thing" or blame "thugs".

Kiddies, that "weird stuff" and "sing song" is the classic Greek comedy influences. Chi-Raq is a melding of modern culture and ancient Greek comedy. Now, Disney's Hercules ya'll have seen and loved that movie. The muses that sing all the songs you love? Zero to Hero 'member? You 'member...same thing. Keep that in mind when you're watching Chi-Raq.

It's fine if you hate it, not everyone digs it. Not everyone loves Broadway either, but at least judge it for what it is. Don't condemn it because of or due to ignorance.

Literature is history,we've got to remember that and teach the kids better. This is just depressing. Kind of adds to Lee's point/message though doesn't it?

Ah well, at least nobody is screaming about Lee being a bastid patriarch co opting Lysistrata and perverting it for his male needs...yet.

As for me, it was different, interesting in a good way and funny. It had raunchy humor mixed with some higher brow stuff. It was thought provoking and chees-ily preachy at times. There's thought in this. There's concern.

I think what's best,for me anyway, was that somebody left the box FINALLY and looked at this from an entirely new perspective. It's not the same boxed up thugs and gangsta garbage. It's not classic men vs women tropes. I loved it for it's oddities. I loved it for the new angles on age old problems.
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Chi-raq: Cultural appropriation on film, and a lousy film to begin with
Godnesss11 December 2015
There is a lot to pick apart here, I could spend a good amount of time discussing why this movie is irritating.

I see a lot of praise from people in the reviews, and that's okay. I get why people would sorta like this, it's a "powerful feminist movie for our time" I see that. Where I cannot jive with this AT ALL is why they took the name Chi-raq. I don't know any people in Chicago who support this movie, the majority think it's goofy and cultural appropriation at it's worst.

The violence problems in Chiraq are not over colors, and women cannot stop it just by "withholding sex". You can say "it's a positive message, it applies to many places". No, not here. Chiraq is a term from that culture, the savages of Chiraq came up with that term when they started breaking homicide records. People there are irritated because Spike Lee heard the name and decided to run with it without doing ANY research into the culture he was completely and utterly misrepresenting. What Spike Lee did it the definition of appropriating, and it's just not right.

Aside from those ethical frustrations, the movie just isn't good. I'm still mind boggled as to why Nick Canon ever got a role in this film. He's not a good actor. The style of Spike Lee's directing has never been a favorite of mine, it's tolerable in here honestly; that was the singularly redeeming aspect of this film. Otherwise, this is a waste of money.
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Just Awful!
rene-7524312 June 2017
I'm not from Chicago and have only been there once. But I would be mad if it was my hometown. My comments are directly about the movie and not about Chicago.This movie is simply awful. I just watched it on a DVD someone gave me and they can have it back. After about an hour, I simply gave up. Yes, I know it's based on an ancient Greek play, but the writing sucked and the delivery just bad. Most of the acting was so over the top, it played out like a cartoon. Why was Nick Cannon even in this and as the male star? Still scratching my head! The only saving grace is Teyonah Parris, although I hope this movie doesn't stop her from getting other roles. Yikes!
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"Chi-Raq" is the gutsiest, more entertaining and most important Spike Lee Joint yet.
dave-mcclain5 December 2015
Talk is cheap. Just ask anyone who decries the most recent example of gun violence in the news, but is frustrated by the lack of governmental or societal action to prevent future incidents. Or talk with the family and friends of anyone killed by a firearm. Of course, few groups in our society understand the problem better than African Americans, who are twice as likely as whites to be killed by guns. And few cities in the U.S. understand better than Chicago, where rates of shooting deaths are proportionally higher than in New York and L.A., and where there are more mass shootings than any other city in the U.S. In fact, from 2003 to 2011 there were almost as many homicides in Chicago as U.S. Servicemembers killed in Iraq (4267 vs. 4485). Numbers like this have led some to refer to Chicago as Chi-Raq. Legendary director Spike Lee's 2015 film "Chi-Raq" (R, 1:58) builds upon this idea, but it does a lot more than talk.

As a way of calling attention to the high rate of gun violence in the U.S. – and the need for action – Lee has co-written (along with Kevin Willmott), directed and produced a movie that entertains, informs and motivates, using a wider variety of elements than I can ever remember seeing in a major motion picture. The basic story comes from the play "Lysistrata" by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. The script is street talk, often set to verse in a way that would be familiar to Aristophanes or Shakespeare. Lee makes artistic decisions to use an on-camera narrator (Samuel L. Jackson) and have characters occasionally looking straight into the camera while talking to others, as he mixes drama, humor, eroticism, parody and song-and-dance numbers to deal with the deadly serious issue of inner city gun violence. As confused as all that might sound, this is actually a focused movie with a strong narrative.

In the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, two rival gangs, the Spartans and the Trojans, are at war. Sometimes they injure or even kill each other and sometimes innocent bystanders fall victim to the violence. Designer eye patch-wearing gangbanger Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) is the leader of the Trojans, while a rapper called Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) runs the Spartans. When the young daughter of an Englewood resident named Irene (Jennifer Hudson) is killed by a stray bullet and "nobody saw nothing'", some of the young women in the community take action. Encouraged by an older woman called Miss Helen (Angela Bassett), Chi-Raq's girlfriend, Lysistrata (Teyonah Paris) does some reading and formulates the plan that is inspired by Aristophanes' play (and which actually worked in Liberia in 2003).

Lysistrata gets her friends together with the girlfriends and wives from the rival gang and they all agree to a sex strike in order to force their men to abandon the tragic pattern of gang violence. The film's poster displays the women's motto (mostly) accurately as "No Peace, No Piece". (Although they actually use a different word that starts with "p" in place of the word "piece".) The men aren't happy about being denied physical affection, but they don't take the protest seriously… at first. Women throughout the city sign on in solidarity and the sex strike starts spreading well beyond Chicago. Then, to help drive their point home, the Chicago women take over a local Army National Guard arsenal (similar to actions taken by the women in Aristophanes' play). Everyone from the neighborhood priest (John Cusack) to the mayor of Chicago (D.B. Sweeney) try to help negotiate and/or force an end to the sex strike, but the women hold firm to their principles and continue to move straight forward with their piece plan.

In lesser hands, "Chi-Raq" could have been an unwatchable mess, but Lee makes it work. He seamlessly brings together the movie's disparate elements and different film-making styles. Contrary to what some critics say about this particular Spike Lee Joint, "Chi-Raq" doesn't cheapen or make light of the problem that it exists to address. Lee and his actors alternately entertain us with very funny lines and sight gags as well as music and dancing, while also bringing us scenes of realistic drama and heartbreak. While many of the film's moments successfully get and keep our attention, others are equally powerful at inspiring us to act. The tactic of the sex strike is obviously not meant to be taken literally as a magical solution to the problem of gun violence, but it effectively conveys the film's overarching message that SOMETHING has to be done, and well-intentioned people need to be willing to do WHATEVER it takes to stop the killing. "Chi-Raq" is quite simply a brilliant film and may be the gutsiest, best and most important work of Spike Lee's career. "A+"
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Male violence is not women's responsibility
jdmarsh2 January 2016
Spike Lee might be a black man, but he is clearly out of touch with the reality of being black (or black and female) in America. Despite a laudably all-black cast, this movie conveniently ignores the reality that male violence is not women's responsibility to deal with, and black male violence is likewise, not black women's responsibility. Black women already bear much of society's scorn and shame; The black woman is the welfare queen, the irresponsible teen mother, the whore. The idea of black women using their (culturally stereotyped) sexuality to control rates of black male violence (which are presumed to have reached war zone levels in this film despite lowered national crime rates in reality)is patently absurd and would be perceived as a racist move had this film not been made by a black man.

Even without the race element, male violence IS NOT women's responsibility. The conceit that women use their vaginas and sexuality to fix toxic masculinity and the poverty that causes violence and desperation in poor communities of color is absurd and wrong.
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Movie Misses the Biggest Point
nickmorenz3 January 2016
While the movie touches on many problems that Chicago faces, in my opinion it misses the most important one: THE WAR on DRUGS. You can blame gun shows, the NRA, lack of education, etc, all you want, but the fact of the matter is and will remain that the violence isn't because of guns...the huge incarceration rate is not because of all stems back to the war on drugs. Guns don't kill people, violent gangs do and they do it because of the money associated with the black market drug trade.

Violence, gangs and turf wars are the direct result of the drug trade. Drug dealers rule the streets because the economic opportunities are terrible in the inner-city and because so much can be made from the drug trade. Poor youth see more opportunity in that criminal world than in going to school.

So will eliminating the war on drugs solve the problem? Probably not, but it would be a big step and do a lot to take the power away from the gangs and it would keep the police from arresting black males in epidemic rates.

I could go on and on about how terrible the War on Drugs is for the black community but this is simply a review and I wanted to convey my disappointment that this is not brought up as a substantial issue.
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School Daze revisited
I really enjoyed the film, but I readily admit that it is probably hit or miss. First, many people don't like satire, African-American satire, the black lives matter movement or Spike Lee's directing style. If you count yourself among any of these groups, you won't find this film entertaining. Stop reading now. Otherwise, here are some really nice features of the film.

1. Teyonah Parris! OMG. She is beautiful inside and out. Her role is challenging. On one hand, her character reveals the very real role of minority women in the modern US civil rights movements. This aspect of the role requires a certain amount seriousness to avoid disrespecting the inspirational work of say Alicia Garza. On the other hand, her character is saving Chicago by withholding sex from her boyfriend (Nick Canon). It's a comedy!

Ms. Parris does an excellent job of balancing these competing aspects of the film. While there is plenty of needless booty slapping, her scenes with Jenifer Hudson and Angela Basset are moving. The explanation of black lives matter movement should be mandatory watching by some republican presidential candidates.

Did I mention that Ms. Parris is beautiful? This movie could spark her career as a Hollywood diva. She reminded me of a young Halle Berry in Boomerang.

2. The supporting actors are great. First and foremost, John Cusack is masterful. He delivers a fiery spirit-filled sermon as a local Catholic pastor. He does great and highlights the multi-cultural aspect BLM by frequently and poignantly invoking the term "us" to describe those affected by violence in Chicago. Second, Samuel L. is hilarious. Whenever the movie seems to get too serious or dull, his lyrics makes you laugh. Angela Basset and Dave Chappelle also have nice bits.

3. The premise is nice. Not only is the film based on a Greek play, it highlights a real movement of similar context in Liberia. For some reason, the real story has been overlooked in the press.

4. You will never watch another feature length film that is wholly in rhyme. That may make you happy, but enjoy the uniqueness.

The movie also had downsides, including: Nick Canon can't act, Jenifer Hudson can't act and there is silly/dull ode to sex-inducing R&B music. However, those issues are forgivable. I would watch this again. I have recommended it to everyone I know.
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Rap and Rhyming Verse Combine to Preach about Guns and Penises
ligonlaw23 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Spike Lee's sermon on gun violence in Chicago and in black America, Chi-Raq, did not work for me. The tone of the film is off. It plays like a musical with so many dance and rap scenes, but there isn't a believable character in the extensive ensemble cast. Also, the use of the Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes should give the script a timeless quality but it does not succeed because the actors' lines are ripped from recent headlines. It is a very topical play.

After the death of a child by a stray bullet, the women in the hood begin a revolution of sorts by denying sex to the men until Peace breaks out.

Dick jokes are funny in moderation. Two hours of rhymes about poles and holes becomes tedious in the extreme.

A dreadful script, confused direction, mediocre cinematography.
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Lively and entertaining
Red_Identity29 December 2015
This one is definitely not without its flaws. The editing and pacing of it is messy, sometimes very uneven. I wasn't familiar with the source material from which this is inspired by, but I found it to be really addictive in its ability to grasp one's attention. I think the ensemble cast works well, even if the tone of the film requires them to be very loud and over-the-top, to the point that the film itself becomes a little exhausting. Some of the performers aren't as good as others, and sometimes it becomes very evident. However, it's also one of those films that is kind of difficult to resist. If you let it sort of wash over you, it will work in splendid, even magical ways, I just wish it was more consistent as a whole.
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Impressive and pretentious, important and difficult.
secondtake6 February 2016
Chi-Raq (2015)

Spike Lee's latest is dearly ambitious and in some ways brilliant—a retelling of a Greek drama that wraps in edgy contemporary African-American urban culture. There is a narrator, played with usual panache by Samuel Jackson. There are the archetypes, people playing not just characters from the Greek version, but types of characters even if you don't know your Greek plays. And there is Chicago itself, a decaying yet bustling backdrop of the South Side.

What all this doesn't add up to is an immediately bracing experience. It pushes the viewer out rather than sucks them in. It requires patience too often (even the title tracks with words adding intertitles of sorts for the opening song go on long beyond the point we get the point). And it strikes false notes— alternately preachy and stiff.

The intentions are great—heroic even—and the result is singular. It's a special movie with moments of intensity. You might like it just for its being so different, or for speaking so loudly about violence and the idiocy of pretense and posturing among Black males (of the sort here, gangstas and drug lords, normal movie stuff and not the Black males I know). it's a great film at least from a distance.

But I found it tiring and almost dull, having to "try to like it" too often. The fact it's superbly intelligent isn't compensation.

It's worth noting the photography, though professionally sound, is not up to the inventive standards of earlier Lee films. Instead of his trusted Ernest Dickerson (who he stopped using with "Malcolm X"), he's using Matthew Libatique, who comes through much better with his Aronofsy collaborations. Here there is a kind of "fitting in" that limits the freedom the camera might otherwise give the movie.

So, forget the social controversy (and Chicago's mixed reception to the film) and give this a sincere try. I think you'll see if it's going to work for you in the first ten minutes. It won't leave you alone, so find what it's trying to do.
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Don't bother
erolsabadosh30 December 2015
I was really looking forward to seeing this as the trailer made it look amazing and I like a lot of Spike Lee films but it wasn't at all as advertised. Did you know that all the dialogue rhymes like some kind of cheesy musical meets a Dr. Seuss parody? And Lee uses names and dialogue from a Greek play so while the film is set in modern day Chicago the characters call themselves Trojans and Spartans for no apparent reason whatsoever. We couldn't get through more than 40 minutes of this annoying shtick, what a disappointment it was to see such an all-star cast (Wesley Snipes is back!) wasted on an absolutely terrible idea. The only good aspects of the film are the cast and the cinematography, apart from that it's a misguided pretentious mess. Avoid!
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a big disappointment
dmuel7 February 2016
I'm a fan of Spike Lee's movies and was expecting to be cajoled into deep thought on today's urban problems by this film. Mr Lee has directed some very good films. Do the Right Thing is still one of my favorites. However, in Chi-raq Mr Lee has taken a highly stylized approach to his subject, and this becomes evident early in the film when every character is speaking in rhyming couplets. This continues nearly unbroken throughout the movie. I must say I found urban poetry in Do the Right Thing, but none in this film. The rhyming began to feel artificial, not conducive to either the mood or the setting, and it quickly wore thin.

Additionally, Mr Lee gave the film a strongly burlesque quality, at times extremely so, and this was clearly meant to be comic. The humor was so exaggerated, however, that it seemed ill- suited to the very serious problem it was trying to address: the murder rate of young African-Americans at the hands of other African-Americans in urban America.

Some reviewers on IMDb have asserted that Mr Lee failed to address the real problem, the "war on drugs", but the topic of the film is more complicated than simple bad law enforcement policy. Lee gave the film a hard sexually charged theme, focusing on reducing violence through female induced sexual abstinence. But he reduces the focus of responsibility in the broader society to white racism, which is likely partially true but not completely so, and even this aspect of the film is presented as burlesque.

The film's principle faults: It is not good drama, it is not good comedy, and it is not a film which provokes much thought on a problem that truly deserves attention.
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No Need To Include Chicago
jonwhatleyeditor6 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
From reading the ratings and the headlines for this film, you would think that this was Spike Lee's worst film to date. Personally, I don't think so.

What the film suffers from is two things:

1) it touches on many topics at one time. The violence in Chicago and the desperate need for it to cease, sexuality, male/female and their gender roles in society, among other things. On top of all that it teeters on being serious, comedic and a musical all at the same time. Having all these attributes can sometimes result in a muddled mess of a film with the overall message being lost.

2) it bears the name "chi-raq" which already characterizes it as a serious film. It wouldn't receive half of the criticism if it didn't have the violence in Chicago as its premise. Yes, it is based off of the Greek comedy "Lysistrata", but had it removed such a heavy topic from it's storyline it may have ended up as Spike Lee's best. The film makes up for using "chiraq" by being heavy-handed with the message of peace and stopping the violence. But for the most part plays up the Greek comedy.

All in all, i don't feel that this was his worst. I understand the anger that many Chicagoans feel about the film. Again, they were expecting a serious film about a serious issue. Lee made a daring leap toward an artistic interpretation of Chicago violence, but only ended up drawing more ire than awe.
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Brilliant adaption of a classic tale.
abmgsson1 January 2016
Some weeks ago I read somewhere a review criticizing Spike Lee for having made a movie about black people for a white audience, and perhaps that is true; I lack the qualifications to be the judge of that.

I have never been to Chicago, and it's unlikely that I ever will visit there, let alone the parts referred to as 'Chi-raq'. Still here I am, in all my white, middle-aged privilege, loving this film.

I love how Spike Lee has managed to adapt the classical play 'Lysistrate' into a current and urgent political context, while still managing to retain the feel of a theater play. He uses the same strategies telling the story as the original production did; the plot is outlined and commented by choirs and a storyteller turning directly into the camera.

It is precisely the sort of bawdy burlesque one would have seen in ancient Greece. And in that same tradition, it also captures, with painful clarity, the tragedy, the frustration, and the despair of the people living in "Chi-raq". It is anything but subtle; Spike Lee has a keen political message and he tells it loud and clear: the violence needs to stop and the government needs to take its responsibility. He offers hints at solutions; jobs, affordable housing, health care, and education.

All main characters are black, except the one man who so eloquently speaks out against the violence and the gun laws -- the Catholic priest. Why did Lee choose a white, middle-aged man for the task? Yes, I get the Catholic priests more often than not are white, but why not write a pastor or reverend instead? Idgi. And it bothers me.

'Chi-raq' features two of Hollywood's best actors: brilliant Angela Bassett, who shines bright as always, and Samuel L. Jackson who plays the storyteller, whose outfits are as loud as ever a pimp's in a 70's cop-show. Wesley Snipes' character is refreshingly different from the ones we're used to see him in, and imo he's doing a good job here. Teyonah Parris is great as Lysistrate and I predict that we'll see a lot more of her in the future.

The film is cinematographically brilliant. Its messy storyline, both ripe with sexual innuendos and intellectual satire with a Dickensian touch, is provocatively pop-cultural to be sure, but make no mistake, it has weight and depth enough to win an Academy Award. And imo, it should.
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A fine piece of incendiary filmmaking that is, indeed, the double truth, Ruth
StevePulaski4 December 2015
Living in the suburbs of Illinois, for the last several years, I've been seriously fascinated by the wealth of young rappers to emerge out of the city of Chicago. This new wave of rappers, often put under the blanket classification of "drill rappers" - music that emphasizes snares, synthesizers, and cold lyrics concerning murder and violence - range from ages nine to late twenties, and the music is often used as an auditory backdrop and grave detailing of harsh realities facing black youth in Chicago today. Rappers like Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Lil Herb, Montana of 300, and Young Chop (also a producer who appears in this film, as well) have made careers off of emphasizing their struggle and their reality in a way that echoes much of the sentiments five young black men had in Compton back in the 1980's. Their story was transformed into a triumphant film this year about rap, gang violence, and gritty business called Straight Outta Compton. Now, the culture of drill rappers, careless bloodshed, and pervasive murders gets its due in Spike Lee's latest joint Chi-Raq.

The film is a modern, farcical retelling of Aristophanes' famous story of "Lysistrata," a story about Greek women withholding sexual privileges from their men in punishment for fighting the Peloponnesian War. Revolving around a Chicago rapper named "Chi-Raq" (played by Cannon), Lee focuses on the women in neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago, particularly Englewood, withholding the same sexual pleasures until gang members agree to stop the violence and start spreading peace; the decision comes after a seven-year-old girl is killed with a stray bullet. Inciting this protest is the film's own Lysistrata character, played by Teyonah Parris, who was also in last year's "Dear White People." All of the women in Chicago choose to take part in this protest, especially after hearing the fiery sermon of Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack, a fellow Chicago native doing his own Father Michael Pfleger impression with great passion).

The result is a city divided between abstinent women and horny men, with rival gangs, the Spartans, of which Chi-Raq belongs, and the Trojans, led by a one-eyed pimp known as "Cyclops" (Wesley Snipes), bitterly torn between their desire to command the streets of their city and exhale their frustrations and find some kind of romanticism in a cold environment. Meanwhile, Lysistrata and other women of the city, including Miss Helen (Angela Bassett in one of the best roles I've seen from her) and Irene (Jennifer Hudson, another Chicago native), the mother of the murdered seven-year-old, stay true to their concept of "no peace, no piece" (the latter p-word is just a tad more vulgar in the film).

If you live in Chicago, then you've undoubtedly heard about the needless controversy surrounding this film since the very moment Lee had any interest in making a film about the city's gang violence. The nonsense surrounding this film's title has made Lee seem like the person who, not only came up with it (the origin of the word is questionable, though the term "Chiraq, Drillinois" was made popular by Chicago rapper King Louie at the dawn of the new decade), but also somehow started all the violence in the city. This is sad because the bulk of the attention this film has been getting locally, not only seems like the only attention the film is getting (I question if this film has much national appeal), but the kind of attention that simply emphasizes some sort of controversy thanks to negative remarks by Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Lee's film is an uproariously funny, bitterly angry, and thoroughly enjoyable farce on the very real and frightening issue of gang violence. This is incendiary filmmaking at its finest, uncommonly urgent and begging for attention without groveling for cheap pathos or an emotional response simply by tossing around words like "homicides" and "murders." Lee has made a career out of profiling race relations, but the sad thing is, from the time he started making films in the late eighties with his amazing Do the Right Thing, things in the black community have ostensibly stayed the same or gotten worse. This adds to the reason Chi-Raq bills itself and its situation as an emergency; it's sad this film even has to exist in the modern day.

Being that Lee has always been a very meticulous filmmaker, using small details and both primary and secondary to embody larger themes and create more believable environments, I found myself loving little intricate things about Chi-Raq. Nick Cannon delivers a very believable performance here, despite someone not growing up in Chicago nor, to my knowledge, being affiliated with the musical culture of the region. One of the film's earliest scenes has Cannon's Chi-Raq character rapping before an energized crowd with Young Chop blaring trademark drill beats in the background. Cannon convincingly spits lyrics concerning "tooleys" (guns), "lacking" (being caught off-guard), the unflinching desire to kill a man's entire family, and other lyrical hallmarks, all while showcasing a strong ability to rap.

Chi-Raq, given its subject matter, is playful and a lot of fun, which is a huge plus for an overarching story this grim. Make no mistake, however, for this isn't a film to lift your spirits nor does it disrespect or do anything to trivialize the violence in Chicago (something that politicians and the cynical public will assert despite never buying a ticket to see the film). This is the rare case of a film taking a serious issue in a light-hearted way and creating a piece of outspoken filmmaking that emphasizes pop art principles, whilst giving its respective culture its due. You simply don't find enough films like Chi-Raq, in terms of quality, bravery, and scope, and that, indeed, is the double truth, Ruth.
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Worst Movie Award
bellacortr12 March 2017
The Chi-Raq movie intends to deal with a very serious subject matter, but the story line is a joke. It's embarrassing and degrading to women and black Americans. The females' actual repetitive chant from the film is "No peace, no pussy!" The fact that it could not be stated on the film's promotional materials should have been a clue that it should not have been repeated in the film itself. To suggest that sex is the only or primary influence that women have is ridiculous. And to suggest that men can only be influenced by sex is likewise demeaning. If sex, rather than intelligence, controls the state of mind and actions of black residents in Chicago, their situation is indeed sad and hopeless. Quite frankly, I'm embarrassed by the trashy nature of this film.
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Porny. Rapey. Spike Lee sells out women to save "manhood."
amylunabelly7 December 2015
I had high hopes for this film, but was really disappointed. It lazily and unconsciously eroticizes hyper masculinity and rape culture ideas about sexuality. It's also shamefully heteronormative. Lesbian, gay and transgender people of color simply do not exist. I lost count of how many "Be a Man" moments there were in the film (hey Mr. Lee, that's kinda the problem right there). Spike Lee sells out black women to save black "manhood" by reinforcing that women's worth and power is in their sexuality. The problem isn't that the film is sexy, because it's not. The problem is that the film is rapey. WHAT a missed opportunity to really make some statements about breaking down the gender norms that enable male gang violence. Instead, this film just reinforced a strict gender binary in which females are dressed as porn stars and move like strippers and are the objects of lust. For all the talk of "booty" I didn't see one naked male "booty" in the whole film--though there was plenty of naked female "booty." The language of "sexuality" in the film repeatedly frames sex as something the big strong male does TO the sexy female who gives it up to him. Spike Lee has taken his archaic definition of "sex" from the porn industry, which is ironic, since the film is about becoming conscious of your own "slave conditioning." Apparently the women in this film did not get that memo regarding sexuality. The people raving about this film are totally oblivious about this underlying irony. For women and men of all colors, this movie gets three stars for being one step forward, but two steps back in analyzing and addressing the true cause of male gang violence--toxic hyper masculinity and the sexual scripts that enable it, which this film enthusiastically reinforces.
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Hugh Disappointment
timlynch-2354931 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
What an awful movie...what was he (Spike) thinking? The context of the movie had the potential to have a profound impact on black culture and America..but to focus on women withholding sex to get their men to stop the violence is totally ridiculous. Someone please tell him to stop making movies about black folks..Tyler Perry would have taken the same subject matter and had the nation coming together to solve the problem. But Spike Lee move focused on black women bodies...the movie was lazy and unimaginative..and just plain bad..I was embarrassed..felt sick on my stomach..etc..etc..STOP MAKING MOVIES ABOUT BLACK FOLKS...Do some comedy or something...
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Spike Lee mad as hell, and creating such a one-of-a-kind, glorious mess of a polemic
Quinoa19845 December 2015
Chi-Raq is the kind of MEGA-STATEMENT in capital letters and blazing with a million kilowatts of electricity and fire that makes Stanley Kramer's message movies from back in the day tame by comparison (and that man laid it on thick), and I should say it's a statement with MANY statements in it. What starts off in Chi-Raq seems to be Lee's take on the gargantuan epidemic of gang violence in Chicago, where it's really more like a war zone with people (and innocents especially from stray bullets) being killed in the thousands.

Right from the start with text on the screen - it almost begins more like a Jean-Luc Godard movie than anything else I can remember seeing in a cineplex, first of all - we learn that there have been more people killed in Chicago from gang violence than have been in Iraq and Afghanistan wars respectively. So what can be done about it? Well, Lee has the idea of using the Aristophenes play Lysistrata, about the sex strike put up by women to stop the Peloponnesian War, as a satire on women using the same tactic stop the gang violence plaguing between (no joke) the Spartans and Trojans (led by Nick Cannon and Wesley Snipes).

This would be enough for a movie. Now, before going forward, I should note that I haven't read the play and went into this pretty fresh. But when you get Spike Lee spouting off about a MESSAGE these days, it has to be in super bold, holy-s***, WTF is going on in the WORLD terms, and it's not just about the gang violence then, oh no no, dear readers. This is about Dylan Roof and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and violence in the middle east and in ("Da Republic" of) Brooklyn and basically all over the WORLD, not to mention gender politics (whether or not men are 'entitled' to sex or that women have to give it up, regardless of actual sexual attraction which is sort of brought up but whatever) and also about, on the surface, the sort of "root" causes of gang violence: gentrification, lack of hospitals and education, lack of fathers, lack of mothers, Trauma centers, leadership, barbershop, tool-shop, the list goes on and on and ON.

In other words, Lee is all over the place here, and it would be one thing if there were some things anchoring it all like, say, actual characters with any depth. But these are mouth-pieces (for the most part, Nick Cannon's "Chi-Raq" character, not his real name but you may be fooled till near the end), and they're all mostly played with fire and mega-passion; Angela Basset is probably the highlight for me, but there's also John Cusack as a reverend who, not unlike some other characters, stop the movie to literally PREACH to the audience. Oh, and of course Samuel L. Jackson as DOLAMEDES (that is Dolamite as a Greek Chorus), who, frankly, I could watch an entire film nothing but of him doing that (especially as his performance may include, seriously, a PATTON homage).

At the core there is really clever things to this movie, it's made by someone who (to put it lightly) has attitude to burn and clearly knows how to direct and, hell, Spike Lee may even be a genius to even go this far with it all. But it's actually a bad movie... sort of. It almost transcends ideals of 'good' and 'bad' - it's someone who wants to make a polemic, a musical, a comedy, a tragedy, a satire, a drama, a farce, a fiasco. There are times that the actors are really digging in to deliver the dramatic goods. There are other times where men are holding their groins going 'booty booty booty!' over their blue balls. There's a Confederate guy in an Illinois National Guard building who makes the most WTF moment I've seen all year (not that I wasn't laughing, a lot, though not sure with it or at it). And... did I mention this movie is 90% spoken in verse? That certainly kept me awake!

And yet I still recommend the film, as completely nutty as it is. Lee certainly cares about Chicago - about violence and peace and love and all of that - and instead of having his aim set on one target has a shotgun full of buck-shot to aim at LOTS of things. His actors have talent to burn like he does (the actress who plays Lysistrata, Teyonah Paris, probably has her breakout role here, not unlike Anthony Mackie in Lee's previous train-wreck She Hate Me), and there are certainly a few moments that made me lean forward and take notice. But if you're expecting one of the best films of the year you... may get it. Or absolutely hate it. Or both. It is art, whatever it is.
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Original, Gutsy and Important
nettrice7 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Today, I awoke to news that Tamir Rice, the 12 year old who was shot and killed by Cleveland Police, had his hands in his pockets at the time of the shooting. He was shot so quickly that he did not have time to take his hands out of his pockets. I felt outraged. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Again. I was already feeling some kind of way about Laquan McDonald who was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer in 2014, a shooting that was captured on dash cam video. I had planned on seeing Spike Lee's Chi-Raq film but after reading about Tamir Rice I knew I needed to see it sooner than later.

The film begins with a graphic of the United States divided in red, white and blue colors and the country formed by images of guns. We hear the title song, rapped by Nick Cannon, with animated lyrics. Samuel L. Jackson greets us as Dolmedes, a cross between Dolemite and an ancient Greek narrator, who appears on occasion to summarize events for the audience. Dolmedes provides comic relief in a film that deals with heavy subject matter. That is not to say that his appearance is the only time we experience comedy in the film. In fact, I went in knowing that the Greek play Lysistrata was the inspiration for the film.

Aristophanes, the author of Lysistrata, was known for a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy, whose works, with their pungent political satire and abundance of sexual and scatological innuendo, effectively define popular culture even today (think Dr. Strangelove and in the televised buffoonery of Monty Python and Saturday Night Live).

After the murder of a child named Patti by a stray bullet, a group of women led by Lysistrata organize against the on-going violence in Chicago's Southside creating a movement that challenges the nature of race, sex and violence in America and around the world. Lysistrata is instructed to research Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee who was responsible for leading a women's peace movement that included a sex strike. Of the strike, Gbowee says, "The (sex) strike lasted, on and off, for a few months." In real life, the strike had little or no practical effect. However, in the film the strike leads to a showdown at a National Guard armory.

While it is true that many of the scenes in Chi-Raq were over the top and some reminded me of School Daze (not among my favorite of Lee's movies), there were others scenes that showed the seriousness of what is going on in Chicago, around the country and the world. The film showed the seriousness of oppression or the New Jim Crow: police brutality, racial profiling, concentrated poverty, historical marginalization and mass incarceration. It conveyed the urgency of the situation, as well. There's an appearance by Dolmedes at the armory and he is joined by a gang member and police man (two sides of a coin).

Overall, I enjoyed Chi-Raq. Some parts made me cry and other parts made me give Spike Lee a side-eye. However, I think the film was brilliantly made, gutsy and important. For that I give it a B+/A
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